No, AMLO Is Not Mexico’s Trump

Equating Andrés Manuel López Obrador with Donald Trump may be absurd, but that hasn't stopped mainstream media from running with it.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador comes to the celebration for winning the Mexico 2018 Presidential Election at Zocalo Main Square on July 1, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. Pedro Mera / Getty

Mexico’s answer to Donald Trump.

Let’s say that again: Mexico’s answer to Donald Trump.

Mexico’s Donald Trump.

More than a passing political resemblance to Donald Trump.

Mexico is electing its own Donald Trump.

Mexico’s “tropical messiah” is a Trump-style politician.

These are the headlines and hot takes regarding the winner of Mexico’s presidential election. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the left-wing candidate of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), took a lead of some 31 percent over his nearest rival. What, then, makes him like Trump, who lost the popular vote?

There are many reasons. López Obrador is a left-populist who is talking about rolling back aspects of the Washington Consensus, and redistributing a degree of wealth and power to poor and indigenous people. This doesn’t, however, include any nationalizations, nor does it mean withdrawing from NAFTA.

He attacks the political establishment, especially the corrupt, murderous, cartel-linked Institutional Revolutionary Party whose monopoly on Mexican state power only began to break down in 2000. He talks about ending the drug war, through which these corrupt alliances between counterinsurgent governors and drug cartels have been forged.

As an example of this, look at the mass graves coming up in Veracruz, representing up to twenty thousand bodies in total. These are evidence against former state governor, the PRI’s Javier Duarte. The same governor allowed police to use “death squad tactics” against a number of drug suspects, illustrating the symbiosis between drug lords and state repression. So, part of what has happened is a popular rejection of brutal, cartel politics.

López Obrador’s coalition is rather heteroclite, even including right-wing evangelicals, and his ambitions are ultimately limited by the system within which he will have to work. Nonetheless, it is a near miracle that he was permitted to actually win.

In the history of Mexican politics, there are several ways in which leftist challengers have been dealt with, but fraud, murder, and assassinations have been foremost among them. As recently as 1994, ruling party defector Donaldo Colossio was murdered.

In 2006, the election was stolen — from the likely winner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. It was so close a thing that the military was prepared for a coup, with a special unit dispatched to take control of Congress. It is less clear that the 2012 election was stolen but there was a great deal of fraud. And in this election, there has been an unprecedented number of murders of local candidates and party workers, and a great deal of associated theft of ballots and ballot boxes.

To put it concisely, this election was about whether or not Mexico is a democracy: it never has been before.

So, again, why is the new Mexican president like Trump, who described Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, and shrugged off the killing of migrants by his supporters? Trump, who is in favor of death-squad justice, especially in dealing with drugs? Trump, whose gangster capitalist links are far more like those of the PRI? Well, there is this one thing.

As one of the snarky pieces comparing him to Trump puts it, López Obrador refuses to accept “adverse results in consecutive presidential elections.” Why? Well, he has this thing about rigged something something, I don’t know. It’s ridiculous.

The New York Times reports that he “refused to accept the result” in 2006, which election was definitely rigged, accusing “the political and economic elite of rigging the election,” which they definitely did. The clown.

John Oliver, patron saint of Centrist Dads everywhere, described López Obrador as Mexico’s Donald Trump. Among the reasons, he chortled that in response to defeats in 2006 and 2012: “his supporters occupied the city’s central square for months, and that is ridiculous.” Lol at people protesting rigged elections. That makes them just like Donald Drumpf the Big Orange Mean Poo-Poo Head.

I’m not throwing in John Oliver merely to have a gratuitous pop. The late-night talk show hosts are all politically timid mummy-birds, puking up pre-masticated ideas, plucked from brain-dead newspapers, into the wide, expectant beaks of their audience. So that’s absolutely not a gratuitous pop. But they tend, on that ground, to be very sensitive to the ideological consensus they both form and, through laughter, police. Oliver is, to that extent, very observant.

The idea that López Obrador and his supporters are in some sense ridiculous subtends a lot of the coverage. Notwithstanding ritual, sentimental observations about how the Mexican people deserve much better — “cough, cough, no good luck to ‘em, bless ‘em, lol, wonderful people the Mexicans, ahem” — there is a basic underlying racist contempt, much as there was for Aristide and Chavez, both of whom were “clowned” by the US media when they were not being incorrectly identified as “General,” in order to convey that they, and not their military opponents, were tyrants.

In the case of López Obrador, the idea is that he is a cult leader for his stupid followers. (New York Times: “something of a messiah.” The Atlantic: “messiah complex.” The FT: “messiah complex.” And so on.) The complex political debates in Mexico, the ways in which heterogeneous groups have been arguing and vying over electoral and social mobilization strategies for years, culminating in this moment, are not really of interest in this coverage. The idea that López Obrador’s supporters have a complex relationship to any electoral candidate, and may have ambitions and strategies of their own, hasn’t been on the radar for years, so why should it be now? Such debates may as well be taking place in a Martian dialect.

No. It’s very simple. X is a bad man/woman (because boo). All bad men/women are Trump. X is Trump. X is lulz. The syllogism to which all enlightened persons of good faith are to defer in these troubled times. Keep it in mind at all times. Whenever there is trouble, disruption, a hitch in the normally smooth functioning of things, this is your catechism.